MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Features

February 19, 2013

‘Shrinking’ groceries not a new development in product packaging

— Has this happened to you? You’re walking down an aisle at the supermarket and you pick up a product you’ve purchased many times before. Dish detergent, deodorant, a cake mix – it looks the same as it always has, but something just isn’t right.

Look closer. The item you know and love has changed a bit. The package may appear to be the same size, but that bottle, box or carton holds less than it used to.

“Shrinking” groceries are nothing new. Half-gallon cartons of ice cream became 1.75-quart cartons, then 1.5-quart cartons. Cereal boxes seem to be on a continual decline, ounce by ounce. One of my favorite cereals has gone from 12 ounces to 9 ounces. Nine ounces barely lasts a week at our house.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a popular brand of dish detergent drop from 9.5 ounces to 9 ounces. I’ve seen my deodorant go from 2.6 ounces to 1.4 ounces. Incredibly, the deodorant is now 47 percent smaller but the price stayed the same.

Consumer Reports’ blog, Consumerist.com, calls this phenomenon the “grocery shrink ray,” and they’ve documented dozens of instances of it on their site. Many think that shrinking groceries are a new phenomenon, yet there are news articles dating back more than 30 years that document rising production costs and smaller product sizes. One article from 1977 notes that a popular brand of candy bars would be reduced in weight by 12.8 percent, and that the same candy bars had already endured two previous downsizings that same year.

Grocery shrinkage certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s happening more often in today’s world. As manufacturing costs increase, companies can choose to raise prices on an item or reduce the size of the item and keep the price the same. The general belief seems to be that shoppers would rather the price stay the same, even if they’re taking home less product.

Do you agree? I’m not sure what types of shoppers they surveyed about this, if any, but there are certainly some items for which I’d rather see the prices slightly increase than see the items downsized. My biggest pet peeve? Cake mixes.

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but nearly every major brand of cake mix got smaller over the past year. For as long as I can remember, boxed cake mixes have contained 18.25 ounces of mix. Now, they contain 15.25 ounces of mix. While I can appreciate – and make – a cake from scratch, I do have several favorite recipes, including a delicious lemon streusel, that require 18.25-ounce cake mix. Dropping 3 ounces from a boxed cake mix means not only less cake or fewer cupcakes, but it also throws off any recipe that depends on a “normal”-sized mix. (How dare they mess with my streusel!)

This is definitely one instance in which I prefer a small price increase in lieu of having to re-work every recipe that involves a cake mix. I wonder if companies consider the unintended consequences of downsizing something so simple to make from scratch. If cake mixes become too small, people may start wondering if it isn’t easier to make their own, versus buying a boxed mix.

In the meantime, if you’re lamenting the world of small cake mixes, you might enjoy my fix for “upsizing” a boxed cake mix back to 18.25 ounces.

I keep a small batch of this mixed up in a canning jar, then simply use it when I want to take a boxed mix back to its original capacity.

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